The Life and Death of a Virtual Guru

COVID-19 has completely changed us, some more than others and while I hear and can sympathize with my extroverted friends who are right now really coming to terms with long-haul social distancing, except for all the death, I’m living my best introverted life right now. All I’ve ever wanted is to work from home and never have to go anywhere. Given that, I now see that over the years I’ve pre-cultivated a whole bunch of COVID-appropriate, socially-distanced activities that are coming in handy now. The most well-seasoned: virtual yoga.

I’ve been practicing yoga by myself in my living room to some recording for nearly 22 years. About five years ago, I found Fightmaster Yoga on YouTube accidentally because I had to throw out a DVD player and was left only to stream and when I saw “Fightmaster” I thought it was some badass warrior-inspired pose. Nope…just her badass real name. But at about 50 years old, Lesley Fightmaster was my most favorite, most wise yoga teacher. Every single class focused on exactly what yoga should–intention, breath, and using asana to connect to something other than you. She could wrap her leg around her head, sure, but she never made me feel less for most certainly not being able to do that myself. It was a message of compassion and love and, at 600k youtube subscribers, I wasn’t the only one who found her way resonant. Despite this massive following, I always felt that she cared about me and my practice.

This is where the story takes an unexpected turn. On December 4, as I was browsing through my email I opened what I thought was a weekly email from Fightmaster Yoga, no biggie, only to discover a note from her husband, Duke, sharing that Lesley Fightmaster passed away unexpectedly on November 21.

Had this been a physical note, I would’ve done that classic movie “drop a letter in shock” move but it was my Iphone and there was no chance I was dropping that thing. I was and still am floored. And I began to realize how weirdly real this teacher relationship was for me despite the fact that I did not know her “in person.” She was a virtual guru with a real impact. Her loss demands the same kind of grieving of a real, in-person relationship yet I know it was completely one-sided because, though she was a real presence for me, she had no knowledge that I even existed.

This is both the wonder and peril of a virtual world, isn’t it? To dig into it gives me real pause–at once it was both a very real…something. It brings up the boundaries we use to describe friendship or relationship in a way that’s almost too elusive. A relationship is necessarily a double-sided venture; you have to be in relation to have relationship. That did not exist and yet my grief about it is as real as any other. I considered her a real teacher, a real impact on my life and her not being there anymore will continue to have an effect on my day to day. Yet, virtually, I’m left to mourn her somewhat alone; I don’t know anyone else in her community; they don’t know me. We grieve together but alone.

I’m still working my way through this one. Upon hearing the news, I immediately thought, “oh, well her YouTube lives on and she won’t be gone for me.” I haven’t been able to look at that channel since knowing of her passing. That might be the boundary line for me; though she lives on, it’s somewhat as a ghost. Only time will tell, I guess.

Blessings and peace, Lesley Fightmaster.

6 thoughts on “The Life and Death of a Virtual Guru

  1. Your words perice down to my heart of what I feel for Leslie Fightmaster and it’s one in the same for me. I did not know her personally but it hit home for me. Leslie helped me through tough times for the past six years and I was very shocked when my 17-year-old daughter told me about her death. She started following her and told me about it last week. I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t been reading any posts but just doing the videos. Astonished and grief stricken I am still. I’m wondering what is the cause of her death?

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    1. My experience in finding Leslie on YouTube mirrors the author. Her family has kept the cause of her passing out of the public domain. The only mention of ‘died unexpectedly’ was released online. The community has respected her memory by not causing speculation. Such a loss for everyone. Rest easy Leslie.

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  2. I love Leslie! I was really hit by her death as well. She’s been a godsend for me before and especially during the pandemic. I feel so close to her; I truly respect her practice and her spirit. Very saddened. Though I struggled with her passing, I have kept doing her videos. I think I just don’t want to let them go. Also, the thing about yoga is it can be so ritualistic… it doesn’t have to have a new sequence every week or so to be a valid practice. I take comfort in her YouTube channel still. RIP Leslie!

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    1. I should go back to her videos now that a little time has passed because I really miss her. And I TOTALLY agree that a yoga practice can be done repeatedly…that’s usually how I’ve done it! To Leslie!

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